Exclusive: Entrepreneur First launches in the US

Company builder Entrepreneur First — the closest thing Europe has to Y Combinator — is heading stateside and launching a New York cohort this October.

Alongside its new locale, Entrepreneur First will continue to run its programmes — which help wannabe entrepreneurs meet a cofounder to develop a startup with — in London, Paris and Bangalore. However, it’s ending its programmes in Berlin, Toronto and Singapore.

It’s a big change of direction for the 10-year-old company, which at one point was active in six different countries and in June last year raised a $158m Series C.

But cofounder and CEO Matt Clifford tells Sifted he’d now be “very surprised if Entrepreneur First opened another site beyond those four”.

Inspired by YC

When Sifted late last year asked two dozen top-tier European VCs which accelerator programmes they cared about, two stood head and shoulders above the rest: Entrepreneur First, and famed San Francisco-based accelerator Y Combinator. 

It’s no wonder: both organisations have now supported hundreds of startups and provided investors with a healthy flow of investment opportunities. EF’s first cohort back in 2013 made investors 17x their money, according to Clifford. 

By focusing on just four key locations, Entrepreneur First hopes to recreate some of the magical “network effects” YC is so well known for. Pumping resources into fewer, more centralised sites means that startups will have greater access to talent and investors, Clifford tells Sifted.

“When we raised it gave us an opportunity to look at what the next 10 years would look like. We have a lot to learn from the Y Combinator approach, of centralising around a single site,” says Clifford.

Downturn pinch

Economic uncertainty also played a role in the shift. “We wouldn’t want to have a bunch of companies with limited access to venture capital during a downturn,” says Clifford. “We want people in a place where it’s easy to raise capital, hire executives and talk to customers.”

The new strategy isn’t a cost-cutting exercise, he adds. The price of expanding to the US means Entrepreneur First will likely to spend more this year than it did in 2022 — despite pulling out of three markets, Clifford adds. 

It’s in a good place to do it, though. According to Clifford, Entrepreneur First has spent less than a quarter of its Series C cash and has runway to last until 2026.

What’s next

Entrepreneur First is also rolling out a separate graduate programme at all four sites for people with fewer than two years’ work experience. 

“Many of our best founders had relatively little work experience when they joined us,” says Clifford, pointing to the founders of Tractable, Cleo and Magic Pony. “But over time the average experience level in Entrepreneur First cohorts has crept up and up and when we fund less-experienced individuals, they sometimes struggle to find cofounders — sometimes because they’re underrated by their more experienced counterparts.”

To counter this, the company will now run two parallel programmes, one for graduates and one for those with around two to six years of work experience.

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